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The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
Goya y Lucientes, Francisco de
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Goya y Lucientes, Francisco de

Fuendetodos, Zaragoza (Spain), 1746 - Bordeaux (France), 1828

Goya y Lucientes, Francisco de See author's file

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters

1797 - 1799. Etching, Aquatint on laid paper.
Not on display

This print marks the beginning of a new series of compositions intended mainly to excoriate the ignorance of the common people, the vices of monks and the stupidity of the great. The superstitious beliefs still widespread among the people at that time, and encouraged by monks, furnished Goya with considerable subject matter. The present print reflects the world of nightmares: Goya does not convert reason into truth, and he refrains from judging the monsters. He simply shows them, presenting the world of the night that characterizes all of the Caprichos: a reversal of the day. Author Alcalá Flecha (1988: 444-453) offers three interpretations of this image. The first emphasizes the artist’s firm belief in the capacity of reason to ward off darkness and obscurantism, revealing the Enlightenment’s confidence in the unfading power of reason to banish human errors and vices, repelling the darkness of ignorance and error and extending and propagating the light of truth. The second views it as the expression of an esthetic principle rooted in neoclassical art criticism, which considered reason and fantasy antithetical principles that an artist had to know how to combine. In other words, the artist had to use reason to moderate excessive fantasy, which would produce only impossible monsters in its absence. Finally, the third interpretation reads it as a display of bitterness in the face of the irremediable failure of reason at a time when the Enlightenment had elevated it to such heights. In the battle between light and shadow, the latter has won; the world ordered by reason has succumbed and is now inhabited by animals that are the demonic lords of shadows.

The year 1799 was a turning point in Francisco de Goya’s life and work. Besides being appointed first chamber painter, enjoying growing prestige as a portraitist and inaugurating the hermitage of San Antonio de la Florida, which he had decorated; on February 6, the Diario de Madrid announced the sale of the eighty prints that make up his Caprichos series. This marked the culmination of an intense period in the painter’s life, which had begun in 1792 when illness led to convalescence at Sebastián Martínez’s home in Cadiz. There, he was able to see English satirical prints that would later influence his work. After returning to Madrid, he cultivated the friendship of Leandro Fernández de Moratín, with whom he exchanged ideas that later emerged in his Caprichos.

The first drawing from the series now known as Los Sueños dates from 1797. These works constitute the visual and conceptual basis for his Caprichos, including its forms, ideas and principle subject matter. During those years, Goya began drawing in albums, where he captured image from everyday life and worked out invented compositions in which he satirically addressed aspects of his time. This activity led to the Álbum de Sanlúcar and the Álbum de Madrid, both of which contain images that are the origin of some of the prints in the later Caprichos.

As the advertisement in the Diario de Madrid mentions, the Caprichos are primarily a satire designed to combat human vice and the absurdities of human behavior. Simplifying, we can group the prints from this series around four major subjects, all unquestionably critical in tone. The first addresses deception in relations between men and women: courtship as a customary practice in which modern men busy with their various occupations allowed their wives to go about their lives in company of handsome young men; the prostitution that denigrated and exploited the condition of both sexes; and unequal marriages or marriages of convenience that were a customary practice in Goya’s time and were criticized by the Enlightenment. The second satirizes poor education and ignorance, reflecting the Enlightenment’s concern about those matters. In the Caprichos, Goya depicts the consequences of improperly educating children, false believes and superstitions resulting from ignorance, and witchcraft as the supreme manifestation of superstition or insufficient education. The third subject consists of a condemnation of vices rooted in society, and especially among the clergy: vanity, gluttony, sloth, lechery and avarice are caustically portrayed. Finally, a fourth group of prints contains the artist’s protest against the abuse of power: the Inquisition, the arrogance of the ruling class, the exploitation of the people and the injustice of the legal system.

From the very start, the Caprichos were often interpreted as biting criticism of that period’s society, sometimes in general, but others, directed at specific institutions or figures, including Godoy and the monarchs. Period interpretations appear in handwritten commentaries on the prints, including those on the series at the Museo del Prado. This series was closest to Goya’s own opinions, as it had belonged to his friend, Agustín Ceán Bermúdez. From then until now, the Caprichos have been subject to the most varied interpretations, which proves the ongoing interest of this series whose reflection of humanity’s extravagances and errors retains all its relevance two-hundred years after its creation (Text drawn from Matilla, J. M.: "Caprichos", Goya en tiempos de guerra, Madrid, Museo del Prado, 2008, pp. 170-171, n. 21).


Technical data

Related artworks

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
Pencil, Iron gall ink on laid paper, 1796 - 1797
Goya y Lucientes, Francisco de
The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
Wash, Pencil, Pencil, Indian ink, Grey ink on laid paper, Mid-XIXcentury
Inventory number
Goya y Lucientes, Francisco de
The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
1797 - 1799
Etching; Aquatint
Laid paper
Height: 306 mm; Width: 201 mm; Height of the plate mark: 213 mm; Width of the plate mark: 151 mm
Caprichos [estampa], 43
Bequest of Plácido Arango Arias, 1991.

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Other inventories +

Catálogo Goya, Pierre Gassier y Juliet Wilson. Núm. 536.

Inv. Nuevas Adquisiciones (iniciado en 1856). Núm. 2297.

Inscriptions +

43. // El sueño / de la razon / produce / monstruos

Exhibitions +

Goya. Drawings. "Only my Strength of Will Remains"
20.11.2019 - 16.02.2020

Meta-painting. A Journey to the Idea of Art
15.11.2016 - 19.02.2017

Update date: 02-02-2022 | Registry created on 24-08-2015

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